California Wildfire Season, “May be Dangerous and Difficult”
A 5-year drought has left 40-M dead and dried-out trees in California, including 29-M that died last year
California may be facing a dangerous and difficult wildfire season in Y 2016 despite a relatively wet Winter, federal officials warned Tuesday.
Most of the rest of the country is expected to see an average Summer, but even that means thousands of wildfires, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said after a briefing from the US Forest Service.
A 5-year drought has left 40-M dead and dried-out trees in California, including 29-M that died last year alone.
“This creates a tremendous hazard, potential hazard, for fires and firefighting this year,” Sec. Vilsack said.
An El Nino weather pattern brought near-normal snowfall to parts of California last Winter, but its forests need much more rain and snow to recover fully from the drought, he said.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Southern California did not benefit from the El Nino as much as the state’s northern mountains.
He said the effects of drought will continue to kill California’s trees for at least 3 more years
The US Forest Service, the primary federal wildfire fighting agency has 10,000 firefighters ready nationwide, along with more than 350 aircraft and 900 fire trucks.
Wildfires are increasing in number and intensity in the US, and the wildfire season has grown by 78 days since Y 1970.
Last year, wildfires burned a record 15,800 sqm, 7 Forest Service firefighters died and 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed.
“This is not weather. This is climate change. That’s what we’re dealing with.”
Their warnings about the Y 2016 season largely echoed what forecasters at the National Interagency Fire Coordinating Center said 2 weeks ago when they issued their outlook for the Summer months.
Hawaii, Alaska, California and other parts of the Southwest face an above-average wildfire threat. The potential for significant wildfires will be below average for much of Texas, the South and the southern Midwest.
Sounding frustrated and impatient, Sec. Vilsack repeated his plea Tuesday for Congress to pay the cost of fighting the worst fires from disaster emergency funds, not the Forest Service budget.
The Forest Service says the largest 1 or 2% of wildfires account for about 30% of the costs.
Firefighting consumed more than 50% the Forest Service budget last year, draining money from forest management and other programs, Sec. Vilsack said. Fires will soon eat up 67% of the agency’s budget, he said.
“Congress has an affirmative responsibility and duty to fix this problem,” he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said money alone is not enough. He said environmental regulations and lawsuits keep the Forest Service from culling enough fire-prone trees from the forests.
Remember, when traveling in forests and Fire Danger Zones take extreme care, lives depend on it.